By Ren Koa
Audio read by author
I’m writing from a time when racial, ethnic, and cultural identities serve as blueprints for finding an immediate sense of community in this world: how to exist within a group “we.” These blueprints are drawn from largely monoracial understandings, a colonial lens of assumed mutual exclusivity and separateness. As someone whose ethnic identity stretches across groups in East Asia, Polynesia, and beyond, I find myself perpetually placed in borderlands. My existence is relegated to the liminal spaces where these discrete group identities meet. The multiplicity of my body troubles conceptual community boundaries.
My being feels noisy,
my identity: unintegrated,
an amalgam I am only allowed to understand through discrete parts.
My physicality feels split between designated entities,
Not existing as a distinct entity in and of itself.
Seeing my(?) body and my(?) being unsettle + destabilize
cultural categorizations, assignments, and structures
births a self-image of paradox and ambiguity.
My location spills into an undefined void in cultural space, neither here nor there; I am too similar to “the other” for each community’s comfort. I am received at once as “not enough” and also “too much.”
The paradox I carry
disrupts, cannot-be-contained, mathematically troublesome
Can a sum somehow render its parts invalid?
Sum < parts
Sum = none of its parts?
My mixed-ness seems to trouble, disrupt, disconcert
Clear, knowable categories drawn by social consensus
To some, perhaps my body is a reminder of rapid globalization
Or of historic, current,
Tragedy evoking real sensations of loss–past, present, impending
I experience rejection/alienation from the same communities my parents and grandparents were born into; I name this simply to note it as a confusing or strange disorientation, and not as a claim that this should not be the case. While racial, ethnic, and cultural identity are such vital points of connection and found community for so many, I wonder how this sense of belonging transforms to hold those of us who exist “in between,” currently unclaimed and without a tangible cohort.
Audio read by author
Your body exists in grounded wholeness; you rest in multiplicity, both in space and time. Turn towards the permeability and dynamism of the group boundaries you speak of. Where your categories of community are troubled, we stretch and shift, reimagining and queering racial-ethnic identity. The social landscape you speak of is not fully mapped.
These social constructs of identity are not as clearly defined and concrete as you believe them to be; they were never static. We create a world that nourishes the both/and: words that happen to be, in and of themselves, of connection. This expansive and embodied sense of belonging and community holds, with care, those of “multiple” experience.
There is something transformative, mystical, and beautiful about that which is regarded as indeterminate; it triggers expansion. Rather than your body being stretched between entities, your body fills cultural spaces in 2020 that are yet to be mapped. And, they will be(!) Recognize and cultivate trust in this unfolding process.
What does this cultural space feel like? Your body evades and obscures social dissections not due to brokenness. Your body is connected to and located in identity constructions that embrace multiplicity, duality, and manifold boundaries of the self. Your body knows its location and is simply now creating the language that would make its location recognizable to others.
There are other ways for you to commune with your self, to feel into these intimately known and yet unmapped spaces.
We are with you in this space and we hear you.
Audio version of biography
Ren Koa (23) is a multiracial lesbian who grew up in Hawai’i. She is a community organizer, researcher, and psychology student interested in the psychophysiology of trauma and resilience. Some of her favorite adventures include the summer she backpacked the Arctic Circle, the winter she studied theology in India, and the summer she served in the Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps. She is also a member of the fifth Earth Leadership Cohort.